One of the things I’ve become conscious of after writing two books and being in the latter stages of a third one is when I’m nearing the latter stages of narrative. I’m not a plot outliner; I write forward, sometimes at a charge, sometimes groping in the dark. This makes for an organic, non-linear process, but I prefer it to planning everything out prior to writing a book. I’ve tried that; books I’ve planned I’ve never been able to get off the ground, because by the time I’ve figured everything out in terms of the plot and the language for the telling, among other things, I feel like I haven’t really left myself any of the fun stuff to do, and what’s left is work. I abhor work, and have no qualms about complaining about it. Work is what anything is when there’s nothing fun in something. But as long as I’ve got something fun to look forward to, I can manage to do a lot of what other people might traditionally call work. It’s a state of mind, I suppose, that distinguishes activities that might look very similar from an objective perspective. It’s the subjective feeling of play, and what conditions must exist for that feeling to exist, that colors work so that it does not feel like work, for me.
But because I am not a planner (in terms of knowing absolutely everything before I go into writing a novel), I sometimes find myself at stages in a book that I had not anticipated, because it’s very much like turning a corner and suddenly the hallway with the door at the end–the one you’ve been searching for–is right there in front of you. You might surprise yourself with what you find behind that door, it may open up onto a vista you hadn’t expected, but you know that it’s most likely the last door you have to walk through. I’m at the beginning of that hallway, and I’ve got a long hallway to walk to make it to the door, but it’s there. What frustrations and annoyances I may encounter from taking a more spontaneous and intuitive journey through a book rather than a planned itinerary are made up for by my own encounter with surprise and an ability to receive new ideas about the story I’m writing as I go along, rather than trying to control it from the beginning, to beat it into submission, to fit it into a preconceived form. Afterward, of course, I tend to do a lot of the controlling stuff; taking out what no longer needs to be there, putting in things that must be there, because of some strange growth the story took on that I had not anticipated initially.
One of the things that I realize now, as I approach a novel’s last corridor, is that it is probably coming when I begin to want to go back to the earliest chapters and start the pruning and shaping of the story, to tear out whole sections and replace with something new. Lately I’ve had that impulse, and it wasn’t until I turned the corner the other day and realized where I was in this book–in the last leg of it–that I realized the feeling of wanting to go back and start revising is inherently linked with being near the end. It’s obviously the next step in the process, and because I can see the end and know it, I know what I have to do in the revision stages already. Now my biggest problem is curbing myself from jumping ahead to revision, so that I can finish that last leg. And despite it being the last leg, it’s still a long run to make. It’ll be very satisfying when I reach it.
And even better when I can start in on those revisions I already want to make. Some people hate revising and rewriting, but I have learned that it’s the best part of writing, because it’s the stage when you know exactly what you’re doing, and you’ve got the general item itself there, right in front of you, so no complaints. At least not from me. Revising and rewriting means I’m more than halfway done with making a book. It means you’ve reached a stage of the creative process that feels, to me, very close to seeing the thing you’ve been making as something more and more apart from you, about to take on its own existence. And that is an event that feels mysterious and amazing.
Revising is definitely the best part of writing. I don’t go into a novel with any sort of outline anymore. The past three novels have shown me that the characters are going to look at my outline, look at each other, giggle, and then take off madly in some direction that never even occured to me.